the photoshooter's journey from taking to making

Christmas

IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK a little LIKE CHRISTMAS

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE VERY PUBLIC, WONDERFULLY ELEGANT expressions of holiday spirit we all share in common, dripping in lights and bursting with sentiment, are measures of how we might observe an “ideal” season, perfect in execution, it’s every detail wonderfully balanced between love, memory and mystery. But the Christmases that we craft with what’s on hand, either emotionally or financially……well, that’s another thing entirely.

The holidays we piece together one lonely candle, one sad string of lights at a time, are worth seeking with your camera, no less than the forty-story firs in the public square. Stationed wherever we happen to wind up, cadging together makeshift moments from inside a barracks, in the last dark apartment down the hall, we “make do”,  but we also re-make ourselves. We drill down to what’s essential. And pictures of those tiny acts of enchantment are worth discovering.

One of the most poignant moments, among many, in Dickens’ Christmas Carol describes the humble holiday preparations of the family of Scrooge’s impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit, modest rituals that, over time, have rung truer than all the grand and glorious galas trotted out each season by the more fortunate. Bob’s wife is described as “dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned (re-re-hemmed) gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence…”,  This sentence has remained burned into my brain since I first read it more than half a century ago. Brave in ribbons. The quiet, persistent dignity of that woman has, for me,  symbolized the season more than all the lights and garlands on the earth.

When What To My Wondering Eyes Should Appear, 2018

In the years since that first reading, I have tried to train my photographer’s eye to look beyond the big and loud of Christmas to find the small and soft iterations of the holiday, those places where its spirit must inch its way skyward like a wildflower  struggling through a crack in the sidewalk. I see some amazing testaments to human survival in the modest windows and tiny yards where many a loving remembrance resides.

Some, as in the case of the picture seen here, are observed at the backsides of alleys, eight stories up in a parking garage, overlooked, unsung. But sing them we should, and picture them we must. Oversized dreams in department store windows are seductive, to be sure, a visual ode to If Only. But down here on the ground, where most Christmases are crafted, a lot more must be supplied by dint of imagination and dreams. Here, closer to the human heart, we learn to ignore our tattered hems, and to be brave in ribbons.

 

 

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LOVE AT THE SPEED OF A SHUTTER

A Christmas Tickle, 2018

By MICHAEL PERKINS

DICKENSA CHRISTMAS CAROL IS OFTEN REGARDED as a ghost story, and a marvelous and chilling one it certainly is. But because its lessons are couched in the colors and echoes of the most wonderful time of the year, the tale of Scrooge’s regeneration also acts on the heart like a series of photographs. It freezes time and invites us to re-inhabit that which has so fleetingly danced by our life lenses. Instead of weeping for what we’ve lost, we smile over what we’ve lived.

There is a reason that Christmas and photography forged such a natural bond. Both deal in retrieval, the summoning of shadows for Just One More Look. Aided by images, we call dear ones back from the beyond for a final embrace, a warm wince of recognition. Remember how handsome he was? Do you recall the day when she got that dress? Oh, there’s the baby.

Time it was, and what a time it was………

No one had to teach the world the value of all those little tintype testimonies when it came to the holidays. Everyone instinctively got the connection between the inexorable march of years and the value of stealing back just a taste of them with the snap of a shutter. Scrooge had his spirits to remind him of the man he had been and the man he still might be. They were his snapshots. His renewed realization of what had been wonderful in his life was his photo album.

Today, still, when someone is privileged to head home for a few days, we wish them well in several ways. Have a safe trip, we say. Give everyone my love, we say.

And then the inevitable tag line.

Take lots of pictures.


O SILVER TREE, O SILVER TREE……

Cussins & Fern Hardware, Columbus, Ohio, Christmas 1965

By MICHAEL PERKINS

CBS TELEVISION FIRST AIRED A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 9, 1965, creating an instant seasonal classic. It got its first tenuous viewing despite the network suits’ fears that the modest little story, voiced by children(!), sporting a jazz soundtrack(!) and gently suggesting that the holiday may be about more than greed and glitz, would lay a giant Yuletide egg. They needn’t have worried, as it turned ou. The show nobody wanted became the tradition without which no Christmas could be thought to be complete.

One of the show’s main plot points involves Charlie Brown’s fear that the holiday has been hijacked by hucksters, so much so that the hottest selling Christmas trees in his neighborhood are not verdant firs but pastel-painted, neon monstrosities. There was a lot of that nonsense going on in those days.

The photograph you see here was taken just days after that first airing of ACBC, but I can’t really claim to be channeling its energy or trying to echo its sentiments. The picture isn’t so much a comment on commercialism (nothing that formal) so much as it is a question.

I was a very young thirteen in December 1965, and had only wielded my Imperial Mark XII box camera on a few occasions prior to the day I found myself wandering around Northern Lights shopping center in Columbus, Ohio, specifically past the display window of the Cussins & Fern Hardware Company. Like Charlie Brown, I thought that some holiday novelties, like the recently introduced aluminum Xmas trees were odd, even though I liked the included rotating wheels that projected ever-changing colors onto the silvery sticks in a kind of robotically cold imitation of gaiety. However, unlike Charlie Brown, I don’t think I regarded these abstract Future Trees as an affront to decency. I just thought they were weird.

I do remember thinking that the window showed a Christmas that was just kind of……off, a Christmas in which you got a whole television set or a food freezer as a present, a Christmas filled with Strange Trees From The Future, a Christmas where you could always buy….money orders? I knew, in that era, next to nothing about how to formally frame a shot or a visual commentary. I didn’t have the pictorial vocabulary to make an argument. I couldn’t interpret. I just pointed at things that interested me and trusted those things to carry their own narrative weight. I was point-and-shoot before point-and-shoot wiz cool.

This Christmas, both the holiday and I are still in flux. I continue to point my camera at shop windows, and continue to wonder what the whole mad mix of beauty and banality means. I still don’t have the answer. Alas, as a photographer, you often have to be content with merely learning better ways to ask the question.

Now, if I can just find someplace to buy Uncle Ed that money order he asked for…..


(RE)SHAKE IT LIKE A POLAROID

By MICHAEL PERKINS

OVER THE PAST FEW DECEMBERS, The Normal Eye has marked the holidays by recalling classic Christmas advertisements from the Eastman Kodak Company, the first corporation to merge consumers’ seasonal sentiment with the promotion of camera sales. We’ve had fun revisiting examples of the firm’s amazingly successful “Open Me First” campaign, which cheerfully asserted that, basically, it ain’t Christmas until someone puts a Kodak under the tree.

This year, however, seems to argue for a new wrinkle in our tradition, with the long-anticipated resurrection of the Polaroid corporation, or at least its Christmas ghost. The strange saga began in 2008 when Polaroid decided to discontinue the production of its iconic instant film, leaving a half-century’s worth of global users stranded. Enter the entrepreneurial trio of Florian Kaps, Andre Bosman, and Marwan Saba, who bought as much of the company’s factory hardware and film-making process that still remained after Polaroid had begun scrapping parts and burning files. Sadly, most of the sacred secret film recipe had already been destroyed, meaning that the team’s new company, dubbed The Impossible Project, had to painstakingly reverse-engineer the production process, eventually creating an instant film that was much closer to the quirky, low-fi look of Lomography cameras than the precise instruments Polaroid produced in its heyday.

For the next seven years, Impossible Project instant film shot off the shelves to feed the world’s aged inventory of SX-70’s and One-Steps, drawing praise for preserving the feel of film and drawing fire for what was actually pretty crappy color rendition and slooooow development time. Finally, in 2017, Impossible purchased the last remnants of Polaroid’s intellectual property, allowing it to begin manufacturing brand-new cameras for the first time in years and rebranding the company as Polaroid Originals. Christmas 2017 would herald the arrival of the Polaroid OneStep 2, a point-and-shoot quickie designed to compete with other mostly-toy cameras cashing in on the instant film fever. The Ghost Of Shaken Snaps Past walks amongst us once again.

And so, Polaroid is dead and long live Polaroid. The above 1967 Christmas pitch for the original company’s full product line (read the fine print) gives testimony to the incredible instruments that once bore the Polaroid name. You can’t go home again, truly. Not to live, anyway.  However, an occasional 60-second visit can be fun.

Strange colors and all.

 

 

 


THAT’S THE SPIRIT

 

By MICHAEL PERKINS

JACOB MARLEY, THE RUEFUL GHOST of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, refers to the manacles and links that trail behind him as “the chain I forged in life”, and indeed, as the years wear on, one can certainly feel the accumulated weight of one’s own “ponderous” train, its clanking amplified to even greater force during the holiday season.

Certain cycles of the year speak louder to our memories than others, whether they mark anniversaries of loss, joy, sacrifice, devotion, or any other emotional life trophies. And the visual arts, including photography, tap into and amplify these feelings in everything from the pages of the calendar to snapshots of dear ones both present and absent.

Both present and absent. Living and dead. Still here and almost gone. Ghosts and survivors. Marley and Scrooge. The photographer can sometimes almost feel the collision of past and present within a single image, as if each force is grappling for control of the picture’s message.

In the above photograph, I was initially looking to steal a candid of my father as he watched some television. It should have been a simple task, but, when your father is still here at 88, the faces of those no longer here echo in his every feature. To add to the density of emotion, you have the fact that he’s seated beneath a mantle fairly buckling under the weight of a third of a century’s worth of well-curated nutcrackers. Thus, even though she’s dodged having her picture taken at this particular moment (a well-honed skill), my mother is present here as well.

And so, decisions, decisions: I could have made my father look over in my direction, maybe even coaxing a smile from him, but I liked his weary look of detachment, as if the years were a kind of Marley chain dragging him earthward. I also could have cropped out the nutcrackers, simplifying the overall frame. But the “ponderous” tonnage of memory the figures symbolize would have been wasted, so they stay.

Photographs can only rarely be snapped in their most complete form, and certain times of year prove too layered with history to make for so-called “simple” pictures. Maybe it’s the different way we see on certain days. And just maybe it’s a ghostly presence, a glimpse of the chain we forged in life.


CHRISTMAS ON THE QUIET

dsc_0319

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE HOLIDAYS PROVIDE A REMARKABLE VARIETY OF VISUAL RESPONSES IN PHOTOGRAPHERS, so subjective are each person’s memories and experiences. This ensures that the subject is well nigh inexhaustible, although I seem to see images falling into one of two broad categories.

One class includes the snapshot-oriented, direct-experience images, which record one’s treasured good times……such as the family tree, the winner of the neighborhood’s exterior lights extravaganza, Bobby’s first moments with his new bike, etc. The other main class seems to center on a kind of abstract interpretation of pattern, color, and shape, and may be more subtle or understated in approach. Of these two basic groupings, one is specific, rooted in personal impressions, while the other is design or concept based. Both produce great photographs, but the aim, for each, is very distinct.

As my own Christmases have become more abbreviated and less populated (family and friends far away), my observance of the holidays is, accordingly, much more muted, less decorous than in years past. The merry little Christmas referred to in the song becomes the dominant theme, and I find my seasonal photos try to say more and more with less and less. The images are simpler, quieter. Whether I have chosen this or it’s chosen me is hard to say for sure. I only know that, as the million elements that define a busy family Christmas fade into memory, I create pictures that suggest the essence, rather than the exhaustive detail, of the holiday’s themes.

Of course, whether this time of year means anything at all to you is a matter of taste, especially as you age up. One of the most interesting places to spend the holidays, for example, is Las Vegas, simply because the town does not sport any decorations of any kind. In deference to many who want to flee rather than celebrate the hustle, the entire city becomes a strange sort of haven, filtering out both the profane and the holy. So, if I snap a picture at Caesar’s Palace on December 25, does that fact alone make the result a “Christmas” photo?

You get the idea: even in less extreme cases, the holidays are in the eye of the beholder. Eventually, what makes a day special is what makes it special for you. Whatever your own circumstances, enjoy the world as you would prefer to compose it. Make the season your personal treasure, whether loud, soft, lush or laid back. No image is a bridge too fa (la la la).


THE BOND

This 1900 magazine ad introduced the concept of the Kodak camera as the ideal gift.

This 1900 magazine ad introduced the concept of the Kodak camera as the ideal gift.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

FOR THE TWENTIETH-CENTURY CONSUMER, Apple, Inc. seems to stand alone in its ability to define a market for a product, fill that market before anyone else can, and engineer the very need for that product in its customers. Apple has not only wrought great things, it has convinced us that, even though we couldn’t have imagined them ourselves, we can no longer imagine life without them. That bond between provider and user seems unique in the history of the world.

But it’s been done before.

In the 1880’s, when George Eastman perfected the world’s first practical photographic roll film, the idea of owning one’s own camera was quaint at best. Early photo images were created by talented, rich tinkerers and the first few professionals, making photographers a small, select brotherhood. Even so, Eastman’s boldest idea was not his film but the affordable means to make a film user out of the average man. The new Eastman Kodak company, like Apple, conceived of a market, filled it almost exclusively with their own products, and closed the deal by proceeding to teach people not only how to use their Kodaks but how to link photography with a full and happy life.

Over the last few Decembers, I have dedicated pages of The Normal Eye to the decades-long love affair between Kodak and the world that it trained to treasure photographs. Its marketing reached its creative zenith with the “Open Me First” Christmas campaigns of the 1950’s and ’60’s, which posited the idea that nothing wonderful could happen in the life of your family, especially on The Big Day, if you failed to record even a moment of it on Kodak film.

Kodak used the most popular children's book chracters of the 1800's, the "Brownies" to sell kids' cameras.

Kodak used the most popular children’s book chracters of the 1800’s, the “Brownies” to sell kids’ cameras.

However, Kodak’s mastery of emotional messaging was in full flower generations before the “Open Me First” pitches for Instamatic cameras and Carousel projectors. Long before television and radio, the company’s persuasive use of print carried much the same appeal: if it’s important, it’s worth preserving, and we have the tools and talent you need to do it. Kodak cameras quickly became positioned as The Ideal Christmas Present, as the company targeted newlyweds and young parents with their upscale models and cultivated the youth market with their $1 line of children’s cameras. In an early example of inspired branding, the kids’ models were marketed with the names and images of illustrator Palmer Cox’ runaway juvenile book characters, the Brownies, playful elves who were featured on Kodak packaging and ads for more than a decade, helping launch the world’s most successful lines of cameras, in continuous production from 1900 to 1980.

Not even Apple in all its marketing glory has managed to align itself so solidly with the emotional core of its customers in the same way that Kodak, for nearly a century, forged a bond between its users and the most emotionally charged time of the year. In so doing, they almost singlehandedly invented the amateur photographer, fueling a hunger for images in the average Joe that continues unabated.

 


THOSE WHO STAND AND WAIT

Please Listen For Announcements: the iconic waiting room at Los Angeles' Union Station terminal.

Please Listen For Announcements, 2015. The iconic waiting room at Los Angeles’ Union Station terminal.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

SHOW ME A HOLIDAY SEASON AND I’LL SHOW YOU PEOPLE WAITING FOR SOMETHING TO HAPPEN. They form lines for special orders, last-minute items, a kid’s brief audience with Santa. They hope to bump someone on a flight, beat someone out of a bargain, talk someone into a discount, refund or exchange. But mostly, they wait.

For as many festive holiday subjects that dance before the photographer’s eye, there are many more scenarios in which nothing much happens but..the waiting. And, while this seemingly endless hanging-out never offers images that define joy or wonder, they are fodder to the street shooter within us, the guy looking for stories. Stories of tired feet. Tales of people who can’t get a connecting flight ’til tomorrow at the earliest. Sagas of mislaid plans and misbegotten presents. Folklore of folks who are lost, lonely, disappointed, and down. In short, all of us, at various times.

Transit points are often among the most poignant during the season, with legions of faces that plead, what’ll I get for her? How will I get all the way down this list? How soon can I get home? Your best bet? Hang at the train stations, the port authorities, the airports, and hear the plaintive strains of I’ll Be Home For Christmas sung in the key of ‘as if’. Seek out those aches, that weariness, the many false starts and stumbling finishes of the holidays. And keep your camera ready, hungry for whatever visions dance in your head.


THE OOOOH FACTOR

By MICHAEL PERKINS

YOU LONG TO HEAR IT. The audible gasp, the sustained, breathless, collective “oooooh” DSC_0573from the crowd when the house lights are doused and the holiday tree glows into life in the darkened room. It’s a sonic sample of the extra dimension of emotional engagement that occurs at this time of year, imbuing your photographs with additional firepower. Call it wonder, magic, enchantment, or what you will, but it is there, in greater supply during the season, a tangible thing amidst the bustle and the endless lists of errands.

Children are the best barometers of this heightened awareness, since so many of their experiences are first-time experiences. Regular routines become magically unpredictable. Ordinary things take on the golden warmth of tradition. People that are normally on looser orbits circle closer to them for a time. Time expands and contracts. And their faces register it all, from confusion to anticipation. Reading the wonder in a child’s face is truly easy pickings at times like this, but I’m a big believer in catching them while they live their lives, not queueing up for rehearsed smiles or official sittings. Those are important, but the real Santa stuff, the magic fairy dust, gets into the camera when you eavesdrop on something organic.

The wonderful thing is, it’s not big feat to keep a kid distracted during the holidays. They are in a constant state of sensory overload, and so extremely unaware of you that all you have to do is keep it that way. Get reactions to, not re-creations of, their joy. Be a witness, not a choreographer. Stealth is your best friend for seasonal images, and it’s never easier to pull off, so bask a bit in your anonymity.

And, to further feed your own wonder, stay aware of how fleeting all of it is. You are chronicling things that can never, in this exact way, be again. That is, you’re at the very core of why you took photography up in the first place, a way to reboot your enthusiasm.

And it that’s not magic, then I will never know what is…..


APP-Y HOLIDAYS

A color shot processed through a Kodachrome filter on the AltPhoto app.

You can convert a color shot through the “old Kodachrome” filter on the AltPhoto app…..

By MICHAEL PERKINS

THE HOLIDAY SEASON MAY OFTEN SEEM TO HAVE “OFFICIAL” COLORS, (red, green, etc.) but its unofficial colors reside primarily, and gloriously, in memory. Given how many iterations of photography span most of our lives, our minds tend to twist and tweak colors into highly individualized chromatic channels. Are your most treasured moments in ’50’s Black and White? ’60’s Kodachrome? In the time-tinted magentas of snaps from the 70’s? In blue-green Super 8 Ektachrome or expired Lomo film? Or do you dream in Photoshop?

This is personal stuff, very personal. It seems like we ought to agree universally on the “correct” colors of the season, but, given that our most precious holiday moments are preserved on various archival media, it might be our memory of seeing these events “played back” that is stronger than our actual remembrance of them. As Paul Simon says, everything looks worse in black and white, or in this case, what really happened pales in comparison to our print, Polaroid, movie and slide souvenirs.

..or you can whip up this warm platinum print simulation.

..or you can whip up this warm platinum print simulation.

This means that there are a million subliminal color “cues” that trigger memory, and not all of them come from “correctly” exposed images. Color is mood, and seasonal pictures can benefit greatly from the astounding range of processing tools suddenly available to everyone. Not all photographs benefit from apps and digital darkroom massages, for sure, but their use is perhaps more seductive, in this mental mid-point between reality and memory than at other times of the year. Fantasy is in play here, after all, and fantasy has no “right” hue. Dreams are too vast a realm to be confined to the basics, so ’tis the season to dip into a wider paintbox.

Memory needs room to breathe, and the photographs that help them fully fill their lungs become the gifts that keep on giving.


THE PARTY’S OVER

The Leavings: Christmas Tree Lot, Phoenix, AZ, 12/26/13. 1/500 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 18mm.

The Leavings: Christmas Tree Lot, Phoenix, AZ, 12/26/13. 1/500 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 18mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

PHOTOGRAPHY IS THE SCIENCE OF SECONDS. The seconds when the light plays past you. The seconds when the joy explodes. The seconds when maybe the building explodes, or the plane crashes. The micro moments of emotion’s arrivals and departures. Here it comes. There it goes. Click.

We are very good with the comings….the beginnings of babies, the opening of a rose, the blooming of a surprised smile. However, as chroniclers of effect, we often forget to also document the goings of life. The ends of things. The moment when the party’s over.

Christmas is a time of supreme comings and goings, and we have more than a month of ramp-up time each year during which we snap away at what is on the way. The gatherings and the gifts. The approaching joy. But a holiday this big leaves echoes and vacuums when it goes away, and those goings are photo opportunities as well.

This year, on 12/26, the predictably melancholy “morning after” found me driving around completely without pattern or design, looking for something of the magic day that had departed. I spun past the abandoned ruin of one of those temporary Christmas tree lots that sprout in the crevices of every city like gypsy camps for about three weeks out of the year, and something about all its emptiness said picture to me, so I got out and started bargaining with a makeshift cyclone fence for a view of the poles, lights and unloved fir branches left behind.

Pack up and get out of town.

Pack up and get out of town.

The earliness of the hour meant that the light was a little warmer and kinder than would be the case later on in the bleached-out white of an Arizona midday, so the scene was about as nice as it was going to get. But what I was really after was the energy that goes out of things the day the circus drives out of town. The holidays are ripe with that feeling of loss, and, to me, it’s at least as interesting as recording the joy. Without a little tragedy you don’t appreciate triumph, and all that. Christmas trees are just such an obvious measure of that flow: one day you’re selling magic by the foot, the next day you’re packing up trash and trailer and making your exit.

Photographs come when they come, and, unlike us, they aren’t particular about what their message is. They just present chances to see.

Precious chances, as it turns out.


THE ANGEL’S IN THE DETAILS

By MICHAEL PERKINS

DSC_0047_2I IMAGINE THAT, IF SOMEONE UN-INVENTED CHRISTMAS, the entire history of personal photography might be compressed into about twenty minutes. I mean, be honest, was there ever a single event or phase of human experience for which more images were clicked than the holiday season? Just given the sheer number of cameras that were found under the tree and given their first test drive right then and there, you’d have one of the greatest troves of personal, and therefore irreplaceable, images in modern history.

Holidays are driven by very specific cues, emotional and historical.

We always get this kind of tree and we always put it in this corner of the room. I always look for the ornament that is special to me, and I always hang it right here. Oh, this is my favorite song. What do you mean, we’re not having hot chocolate? We can’t open presents until tomorrow morning. We just don’t, that’s all.

It’s tradition.

If, during the rest of our year, “the devil’s in the details”, that is, that any little thing can make DSC_0593life go wrong, then, during the holidays, the angel’s in the details, since nearly everything conspires to make existence not only bearable, but something to be longed for, mulled over, treasured in age. Photographs seem like the most natural of angelic details, since they lend a gauzy permanence to memory, freezing the surprised gasp, the tearful reunion, the shared giggle.

As the years roll on, little is recalled about who got what sweater or who stood longest in line at GreedMart trying to get the last Teddy Ruxpin in North America. Instead, there are those images…in boxes, in albums, on hard drives, on phones. Oh, look. He was so young. She looks so happy. That was the year Billy came home as a surprise. That was the last year we had Grandma with us. Look, look, look.

So remember, always….the greatest gifts you’ll ever receive aren’t under the tree.

Merry Click-mas.


KEEPING SPIRITS BRIGHT

1/16 sec., f/4, ISO 100, 20mm.

1/16 sec., f/4, ISO 100, 20mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

IT IS A SEASON OF LIGHT AND COLOR, perhaps one of the key times of the year for all things illuminated, burning, blazing and glowing. It is a time when opportunities for vivid and brilliant images explode from every corner.

And one way to unleash all that light is to manage darkness.

One example: your family Christmas tree involves more delicate detail, tradition and miniature charm than any other part of your home’s holiday decor, but it often loses impact in many snapshots, either blown out in on-camera flash or underlit with a few colored twinkles surrounded by a blob of piny silhouette.

How about a third approach: go ahead and turn off all the lights in the room except those on the tree, but set up a tripod and take a short time exposure.

It’s amazing how easy this simple trick will enhance the overall atmosphere. With the slightly slow exposure, the powerful tree LEDs have more than enough oomph to add a soft glow to the entire room, while acting as a multitude of tiny fill lights for the shaded crannies within the texture of the tree. Ornaments will be softly and partially lit, highlighting their design details and giving them a slightly dimensional pop.

In fact, the LED’s emit such strong light that you only want to make the exposure slow enough to register them. The above image was taken at 1/16 of a second, no longer, so the lights don’t have time to “burn in” and smear. And yes, some of you highly developed humanoids  can hand-hold a shot steadily at that exposure, so see what works for you. You could also, of course, shoot wide open to f/1.8 if you have a prime lens, making things even easier, but you might run into focus problems at close range. You could also just jack up your ISO and shoot at a more manageable shutter speed, but in a darkened room you’re trading off for a lot of noise in the areas beyond the tree. Dealer’s choice.

Lights are a big part of the holidays, and mastery of light is the magic that delivers the mystery. Have fun.


I’M DREAMING OF A ‘CHROME CHRISTMAS

All The Trimmings, 2013. 1/160 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

All The Trimmings, 2013. 1/160 sec., f/5.6, ISO 100, 35mm.

By MICHAEL PERKINS

IF YOU HAVE BEEN ON THE PLANET FOR MORE THAN FIFTY CHRISTMASES, your holiday memories (at least those frozen in family snapshots) will include more than a few black and white images. Some families made the switch to color photography earlier than others, but, at least until the mid-1960’s, for millions of us, more than a few “our best tree ever” photos were shot in monochrome. A little web research or family album-browsing can illustrate just how well beloved memories were captured by millions of us, long before Kodachrome became the visual currency of family folklore.

It’s interesting to note that, with the universal availability of not only simple cameras but post-processing apps, there’s been a sort of retro-fed love of b&w that’s refreshing, given that we are, once again, admitting that some subjects can be wonderfully rendered in a series of greyscale tones. Certainly the general marketing and depiction of the season is a color-drenched one, but many new photographers are re-discovering the art of doing more with less, or, more properly, seeing black and white as an interpretation of reality rather, as in the case of color, as a recording of it.

Observing the season out in the American West, thousands of miles from loved ones, I find that my holiday shots are increasingly journalistic or “street” in nature, since I am viewing and interpreting other people’s Christmases. The contours and designs of retail become a vibrant source of stories for me, and black and white allows me to shoot at an emotionally safe distance while calling special attention to texture and detail.

Depending on whether you’re showing the splendor of food and presents or evoking some Dickens-era urban grit, some subjects will come up flat or drab in black and white, given our very specific memory cues as to what Christmas should “look like”, so getting the desired result may be elusive. But, of course, if photography was easy, everyone would do it.

Oh, wait, everybody does do it.

Thing is, you always add another voice to the creative conversation. That’s the best part of both photography and the holidays.

No way is best but your way.


HEAVENLY PEACE

1/320 sec., f/8, ISO 100, 55mm.

Peace is where you find it. You no doubt have images of your own that remind you of what “might be”, in a quieter world. Cherish them. 1/320 sec., f/8, ISO 100, 55mm.

“But you were always a good man of business”, faltered Scrooge.

“Business!”, cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business! Charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of  MY BUSINESS!!”

By MICHAEL PERKINS

IN FORWARD COMBAT AREAS,  CHRISTMAS IS NOT SO MUCH A CELEBRATION as a cessation of hostilities. We have all seen those poignant scenes from war movies in which, at the tolling of the midnight bell on the 25th, combatants from both sides, some within mere feet of each other, lay down their arms, share a smoke, a snort of whiskey, even a song, before resuming the slaughter. Such cinematic schmaltz is both touching….and infuriating.

Touching…..because it’s a comfort to think that our essential humanity cannot be totally submerged in madness. Infuriating……because we never learn how to extend, export, and explore such episodes of humanity. We make our way through the world as if we had no choice but to heed whatever animal urges see fit to boil up in us in the moment.

We act as if we are helpless to choose anything but our own destruction.

That self-imposed fake destiny was never in greater evidence than in the recently completed year. Use any yardstick you want. Animosity, brutality, stupidity, selfishness, heedlessness…we bounced and ricocheted off each one like the proverbial bull in a shop. But instead of merely smashing china, we smashed lives…or, more importantly, cut them short, as if this were just the way of the world and we were merely unanchored flotsam on a churning sea of fate.

The pure punishment of the events of 2012  has recently sent me looking through my images for this year in search of peace. Maybe not peace in its perfection, but something to look upon which betokens calm, silence, a cessation of hostilities. I am not frequently at my family home for Christmas, and those visits that I do make during the winter months may or may not have the classic visual trappings one looks for during the season. The above picture was actually taken in February, with a scant amount of snow on the ground, the bare trees from my father’s back lot providing a stark landscape, and his next nearest neighbor’s house beckoning as the next best hope of refuge. Or so it looks to me, looking back. It’s a lonely little scene, but over the past few weeks, the quiet of it has meant everything to me. And not because I’m the one who shot it.

Maybe making it to that next warm, safe house is all any of us longs for. Maybe it represents how far off the mark we have wandered during the year. Maybe it’s like Robert Frost’s definition of “home” as the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in. In any event, I hope you all can find a picture somewhere that, for you, marks a place to reflect, catch your breath, and, just for a moment, stop shooting at that other guy just a few feet away.

I also intend to pray for something a little more lasting.

And while it would take an old-fashioned Christmas Miracle to get to that place……well, what else are prayers for?

Pax.